Jan 242018

  by Bill Onasch


While it didn’t change anything substantial, I feel a need to correct an error I repeated from an early news report on Trump’s vulgar outburst in a meeting with Senators about immigration legislation. That gathering actually took place in a somewhat crowded Oval Office, not the Cabinet Room as I wrote in the last WIR.

Getting Us to Third Base

Cornel West

In the last WIR, I promised some comments about a noteworthy article published on the Guardian site—America Is Spiritually Bankrupt, We Must Fight Back Together.

I’ve followed its author Cornel West since he became known as a prominent intellectual and activist in the 1970s. He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale Divinity School, and the Union Theological Seminary. He co-hosted a radio show on NPR, and won an award from MTV for explaining his radical views through hip-hop albums. He is often invited to speak at mass demonstrations including last year’s confrontation with neofascists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While generally admiring his work, I have not always agreed with him. Considering the framework for his ideas I suspect all of his readers/listeners have some caveats. The Wikipedia article about him says,

Styling himself as a radical democrat socialist, West draws intellectual contributions from multiple traditions, including Christianity, the black church, Marxism, neopragmatism, and transcendentalism.”

That’s a potent mixture not easily blended. And it doesn’t always go down smoothly for Marxist socialists who value dialectical logic over pragmatism and are mostly materialists who do not believe in supernatural forces.

Of course, that doesn’t mean all those who accept the Marxist vision of socialism have to renounce God. And we should especially recognize the unique role churches have played among those suffering national or racial oppression. The great Celtic Marxist James Connolly remained a devout Catholic until executed by a British firing squad. In my lifetime, the two greatest leaders of the struggle against racism in America were clergy—the Christian Martin Luther King and the Muslim Malcolm X.


The Guardian piece marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of West’s important book Race Matters. (You can read a review written at the time by the socialist Malik Miah here.) In retrospect West writes,

I tried to lay bare the realities and challenges to American democracy in light of the doings and sufferings of black people. Back then, I reached heartbreaking yet hopeful conclusions. Now, the heartbreak cuts much deeper and the hope has nearly run out.”

The election of the 45th president enhanced this disappointment and he pulls no punches in describing the CEO of what he calls an imperial meltdown,

The political triumph of Donald Trump is a symbol and symptom – not cause or origin – of our imperial meltdown. Trump is neither alien nor extraneous to American culture and history. In fact, he is as American as apple pie. He is a sign of our spiritual bankruptcy – all spectacle and no substance, all narcissism and no empathy, all appetite and greed and no wisdom and maturity.”

But West is no kinder about Trump’s predecessor,

The painful truth is there is no Donald Trump without Barack Obama, no neofascist stirrings without neoliberal policies – all within the imperial zone. Obama was the brilliant black smiling face of the American empire. Trump is the know-nothing white cruel face of the American empire. Obama did not produce Trump, but his Wall Street–friendly policies helped facilitate Trump’s pseudo-populist victory.”

Within the abridged format of the Guardian piece, West nails the multiple catastrophes produced by Empire—

Climate change, “Our ecological catastrophe is real. The Anthropocene epoch engulfs us. Human practices –especially big business and big military operations – now so deeply influence the Earth’s atmosphere that extinctions loom large.”

Nuclear war, “The potential for nuclear catastrophe remains urgent as US-Russia tensions escalate and other nuclear powers, like North Korea, China, Pakistan, India and Israel, are expanding and restless.”

And others not so irreversible,

Our economic catastrophes proliferate along with grotesque wealth inequality. Our political catastrophes deepen as oligarchy triumphs from governmental dysfunction. Our civic catastrophes deepen as the public interest, common good, or even rule of law are undercut by big money.

“And our cultural catastrophes are often hidden – the vast and sad realities of trauma and terror visited upon vulnerable fellow citizens who are disproportionately poor people, LGBTQ people, peoples of color, women and children.”

West concludes with some examples that for him keep hope alive—Black Lives Matter; the indigenous stand along with allies at Standing Rock; the massive women’s marches in January 2017; Reverend Barber’s Moral Monday and Poor People’s campaigns.

And he reiterates his Race Matters theme,

Race matters in the 21st century are part of a moral and spiritual war over resources, power, souls and sensibilities. There can be no analysis of race matters without earth matters, class matters, gender matters and sexuality matters and, especially, empire matters. We must have solidarity on all these fronts.”

Such a masterful, comprehensive essay is rare indeed in the American Empire. But it leaves unanswered how we can advance solidarity on all these fronts. Using a baseball metaphor, West hits both fast balls and curves to get us to third base. But how do we get home to put a winning run on the scoreboard?

That requires more than ad hoc coalitions of various issue movements–important as they may be. There can be no moral just society until we break the political monopoly of the two-faced twin parties of capital with a party of our own.

In 2016, Cornel West backed the campaign of the Danish-style socialist Bernie Sanders to become the standard bearer of one of the parties of Empire. After that campaign failed, and Sanders backed Hillary Clinton, West supported the class agnostic Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Trump’s victory revived lesser evilism. The moveon.org hucksters for the Democrats are again bird-dogging mass movements such as last weekend’s women’s marches– hailing them as part of a march to the polls in November. (More about that next time.)

My hope was kindled by events on the other side of the Atlantic—the rescued and rejuvenated British Labour Party. After being hijacked by the neoliberal war criminal Tony Blair, the Corbyn leadership is finally reclaiming its historic mission as the party of the working class. Its structure includes not only affiliated unions but also antiwar, antiracist, feminist and climate justice movements, as well as community based branches. And it’s not just an electoral machine—it also is building support for strikes and mass demonstrations against austerity.

In my opinion, an American labor party is key to uniting solidarity on all fronts—and taking power away from the destructive, and yes spiritually bankrupt, ruling class of Empire. Fighting back together, let’s bring it on home.

In Brief…

* Fossil Deaths at Sea—In yet another ship collision in the busy China sea, a freighter carrying American grain suffered no injuries and only relatively minor damage. But the other vessel, a tanker carrying a million barrels of highly volatile Iranian light crude was not so lucky. Thirty-two sailors perished as their ship erupted in flames—a fire that burned for six days before it sank releasing the unburned oil in to the sea.

* Fossil Deaths on Land—Details have been sparse about a gas explosion at a drill site in Oklahoma Monday that left five workers “missing” and presumed killed. Early reports could not even confirm whether the drilling was intended for oil or gas. The OSHA investigation was delayed because of the government shutdown.

* The Times They Are a Changing—A New York Times story began, “Journalists at The Los Angeles Times voted overwhelmingly to form a union despite aggressive opposition from the paper’s management team, reversing more than a century of anti-union sentiment at one of the biggest newspapers in the country.” The vote wasn’t close—248-44.

* In Passing—I briefly had a chance to collaborate with Paul Booth in 1965 when I was assigned by the Young Socialist Alliance to work with the SDS national office in Chicago to build the first national demonstration against the Vietnam war. Unlike many of his New Left colleagues, Booth was a skilled organizer and SDS should be remembered for being the catalyst for the mass antiwar movement that followed. SDS soon split in to many fragments and Booth chose a career in the union movement with AFSCME. After a long bout with leukemia, Paul Booth passed away last week at age 74.

That’s all for this week.

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